The Small Bakers’ Salvation Lies in Something For the Weekend
One Saturday afternoon way back when, circa 1961, British Baker columnist `Long Peel’ took a weekend trip. On arrival at his destination he hot-footed it down to a bakery he’d heard was very good. Unfortunately I can’t tell you where Long Peel was, since the bakery owner wasn’t keen to discuss his competitors without anonymity, but Long Peel did spend several hours chewing over crust and crumb with the aforementioned baker. The resulting Q & A was duly published in the British Baker magazine – and at some point I will discuss the article in greater detail, but for now I want to focus on Long Peel’s firm opinion
… that the small bakers’ salvation lies in small loaves, fancy breads, rolls and fermented morning goods. Here I believe is where he has a real advantage over his big brother, provided that he takes the trouble to please his customers”.
Of course the `big brother’ he refers to is (1) the emerging retailers and (2) the plant bakers (the latter still had high street shops at this time). Personally I am fascinated by these `morning goods’ and would love to see a revival of these quintessentially British and regional breads and confectionery. So often the average bakery offering is an unsatisfactory mish mash of croissants and pan au choclat with a few currant buns and iced fingers thrown in. Made with the same good ingredients, skill and care that you might expect to find in a French artisan baker’s kitchen, I’m sure a discerning local public could be easily tempted to develop a penchant for our traditional equivalents.
So in a bid to offer up some inspiration, the blog will now include a regular `Something for the Weekend’ slot, exclusively showcasing the kind of breads Long Peel was talking about. Since I have a penchant for malt, I’m starting with a heavily malted brown bread recipe. Redolent of the teas of my childhood, I find malt a powerfully evocative flavour (which may in part be down to the fact that every winter we were regularly dosed with teaspoons of the stuff before heading off to school). I still can’t use malt in any recipe without first helping myself to a teaspoonful straight from the jar. Yum!
Fellow malt lovers will also be interested to know that in this week’s Food Programme on Radio 4, Sheila Dillon is investigating the role malt plays in our drinks and diet. For an up to date recipe and a professional finish Bakery Bits is also worth a look, their gorgeous wooden baking moulds and ingredients look just the job.
Heavily Malted Brown Bread aka `Food of the Gods’ (makes 3 small loaves)
The author of this (at least 60 year old) recipe, Albert Daniel, suggests using this loaf as a starting point to evolve a local speciality (he also suggests devising a special name and using special wrappers). Although it is a touch involved and a great deal of care is required, I love the fascinating processes involved, which are immensely satisfying once mastered. The gorgeous sweet, moist and sticky end result, with a generous helping of salted butter and a hot mug of tea is just the job. Expect some baking love too – the spare loaf from this batch went to work with my husband and his colleague described it as `Food of the Gods’.
I have provided my domestic quantities initially with the original recipe republished at the end of the blog:
- 142ml water
- 22g yeast
- 140g strong white flour
- 85g plain white flour
- 284 ml just boiled water
- Malt Digest:
- 35 ml cold water
- 126g diastatic malt extract
- 198g black treacle
- 19g lard
- 19g salt
- 140g sultanas or raisins
- 540g strong white flour
- 6g cornflour
- 142ml water
- Set the sponge at 85 degrees and cover warmly. Leave it to rise and drop (should take about 35 minutes).
- Whilst the sponge is doing its work, scald the flour with the just boiled water by pouring the latter intot he former whilst stirring rapidly to avoid lumpiness. Then add the cold water to reduce the scald’s temperature, then add the malt, stir thoroughly and cover warmly.
- Prepare the dough ingredients by rubbing the fat into the sieved flour and salt.
- When the sponge is ready, add the malt digest mix to it and mix well, then add the treacle (make sure it’s not too cold) and the fruit. Finally add the flour and mix thoroughly to a soft, sticky sort of dough.
- Ferment for one hour, knead thoroughly and leave for a further 30 minutes.
- Scale at 560g (or adjust the recipe to make 454g size loaves), placing the shaped dough into well warmed and greased tins (I use a pastry brush and brush with lard), then prove fully somewhere warm (leaving for up to 2 hours depending on how you are prooving the loaves).
- Make the starch paste by mixing a tiny amount of the (cold) water to make a paste with the cornflour. Boil the remainder and pour over the whetted cornflour whilst stirring. Brush over the lightly proved loaves with the starch paste before baking for 1.5 hours in a moderate oven at 160 degrees C or 325 F.
Notes for Domestic Bakers
With the large amount of treacle, malt and fat enriching this recipe, the task the yeast has to perform is greatly increased, so the sponge and dough system used gives the yeast an opportunity to ferment some of the flour and becoming very active before the heavier ingredients are incorporated. However, don’t be tempted to reduce the yeast quantities, even if, like me, you find them a bit excessive.
The scalding of the starch in the flour causes the cells to expand, burst their cell walls and so release the starch proper. This is acted upon by the malt and changed into a mixture of two substances, one of which is sugar and the other of which is gum. The former (Maltose) would be present in far greater quantities than could be used by the yeast, and so remains in the bread to help sweeten it and improve its malt flavour.
The gummy action of the malt on the scaled starch is called dextrin. This makes the loaf sticky and rather difficult to bake out, but these characteristics have great flavour.
Owing to the high percentage of sugar in the dough at baking time, much lower oven temperatures are required. This prolonged baking results in the production of still more sugar and gum, so that the finished bread is sticky and sweet.
Most heavily malted brown breads are made with white flour of great initial gluten strength as great softening of the gluten occurs due to the nature of the ingredients.
So although this loaf doesn’t use malted flour, it’s useful to know that the colour of malt flour is an indication of its powers of changing soluble starch to sugar and gum: the pale colours are very active, the medium colours less so and dark or very dark brown malts are incapable of bringing about these changes. The dark coloured malt is then used to give the desired colour to the crumb.
Original Recipe – Heavily Malted Brown Bread
- 568ml water (1 pt)
- 567g strong white flour (1.25 lbs)
- 87.5g yeast (3.5 oz)
- 340g plain flour (0.75 lbs)
- 1,136ml boiling water (2 pts)
- 142ml cold water (0.25 pts)
- 504g diastatic malt extract (1lb 2 oz)
- 794g black treacle (1.75 lb)
- 75g lard (3 oz)
- 25g salt (1 oz)
- 567g sultanas or raisins (1.25 lbs)
- 2.156kg strong white flour (4.75lbs)
- 25g cornflour (1 oz)
- 568ml water (1 pt)